PARIS: French prisoners have published their own cookbook to teach other inmates how to produce low-budget meals with simple prison cooking equipment.

The book, Cooking Just For Me, seeks to live up to France's reputation for gastronomic excellence. It features 100 recipes by convicts that range from sophisticated fish dishes to rich chocolate cakes and desserts.

"Cooking in prison forces you to be creative: You only have a pan, a saucepan and an electric stove – that's all," Claude Deroussent, a doctor in the Ensisheim prison in southeastern France who launched the project, told Reuters.

Deroussent called on France's 60,000 prisoners last year to send in their favourite recipes and asked renowned chef Marc Haeberlin to select the best out of an overwhelming 600 replies.

"I was very impressed by the prisoners' inventiveness," said Haeberlin, whose Alsatian restaurant L'Auberge de l'Ill near Strasbourg has received the Michelin guide's top three-star rating.

"Some prisoners have built their own oven by putting one electric stove on each end of a stool and wrapping aluminium foil around it," he said.

"Ingredients are another challenge. Not everything is as readily available as here in my restaurant. Some convicts say they save biscuits at breakfast to make cake later on."

Haeberlin said he was amused by the inmates' instructions on some of the recipes he received. One message read: "This recipe takes time. But time is not really scarce in here."

A prisoner from Caen in northern France who provided the best recipe – sea bream with mushrooms and lettuce – was awarded a television set by prison authorities.

Cheers

Marc